Published: Saturday 15 February 2003

Pick of the post bag

Decommissioning polluting small vehicles

Down To Earth is correct in emphasising that greater pollution in urban environments is due to older vehicles and technologies such as small, two-stroke engines. 'Let the polluter pay' thus appears a sound approach to reducing emissions. The fines imposed may mean added revenue to implement more environment-friendly projects. A closer look at the operation of the more polluting vehicles used for income generation in cities reveals a cluster of shortcomings that applies not only to India, but also to west Europe. The socioeconomic explanation is that substandard transport is a characteristic of low-income, often self-employed people, who live precariously on the margin of the monetary economy. Polluters would include occasional market traders, small transporters, delivery service operators, self-employed artisans, unskilled workers, entertainers and the like. The nature of their work precludes operating from home, workshop or store. Vehicle-borne mobility is essential for their survival.

The polluter therefore is a highly evolved form of 'Homo economicus,' a paradigm of the rational, efficient operator. S/he's been promoted as a role model by financial institutions and economic thinkers for decades. What politician would deliberately risk creating massive unemployment by implementing environment-friendly measures, thereby driving most of these operators out of business? Or dare initiate targeted schemes to reduce pollution by offering appropriate incentives?

Even if finance is not a problem, could polluters easily switch to less-polluting vehicles or machines? In the small vehicle sector, the answer would still appear to be no! For example, psa, which manufactures Peugeot, recently released a diesel engine with a filter system to remove fine particles from diesel exhausts. Tests by the German independent consumer association and a federal government ministry have certified that the psa filter significantly reduces pollution.

Sounds excellent! But the special diesel filter is only available in the most expensive versions of psa cars. Opting for their smaller, more economic diesel engine means foregoing the filter. It's still not possible to be both environment and cost conscious.

What might be the alternatives to the unregulated and polluting metropolitan model? Recently I received a satellite image of illuminated population centres of the world. Some aspects, the lighted 'corridor' of the Nile valley and the general illumination of nighttime India are pleasing; others such as the darkness of a large part of Africa and Latin America are not.

Lit-up India proves that electrification projects provide a widely used service, extending well beyond urban centres. How much of that lighting is for 'consumption' and how much is used for production (workshops, night markets)? Can electrification create additional opportunities, such as factory or workshop nightshifts and agro-processing for early or distant markets? Can these opportunities be created outside metropolitan areas?

Such a change will lure people away from self-employment in the urban service sector which offers mere subsistence, is extremely difficult to regulate, and also pollutes. New manufacturing, processing and other 'added value' output can preferably be located outside the big cities. Globally, there are instances of successful, multi-location and resource-based production and manufacturing. Electrification is an Indian success story; can it provide a basis for environment-friendly development?


Polluting tanneries

This is with reference to the article 'Tangible shift' (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 14; December 15, 2002). I was shocked to learn the director of Central Leather Research Institute, T Ramasamy, say in the interview that the finished product of leather with better processing could be made 'biodegradable.' The tannery effluents contain more than 276 highly toxic chemicals including chromium, sulphides, nitrates, chemicals and common salts used in large quantities. So how can anyone produce an eco-friendly 'unique product' of leather?

While the international standard fixed for the limit of chromium in a hazardous industry area is 2 ppm (parts per million), the concentration of chromium in tanning yards has exceeded even 13,500 ppm. I seriously dispute that the total dissolved solids (tds) in the tannery effluents could be reduced by 50 per cent through in-plant processing.

I, along with some of the office bearers of Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum and a few others, visited among other places the vanitec Common Effluent Treatment Plant (cetp) at Valayambattu in Vaniyambadi on December 16, 2002. The cetp manager said that more than 124 tanneries were sending effluents through a giant pipeline and more than 3.5 million litres were discharged after treatment.

We also visited the places where effluents were let into the Palar river and cultivable lands. At Girisamudram village, Vaniyambadi, apart from huge quantities of chrome sludge, other wastes were also being dumped. A huge pit more than 250 feet wide and 100 feet deep holds the tannery sludge, despite repeated protests by agriculturists and ngos. It was shocking to witness that the cetp was actually draining effluents without any treatment! And the Palar river, which has no surface water, was dug up for storing the highly toxic effluents and sludge.

We also visited the cetp at Ranipet and some of the tanneries in nearby places. There was no sign board near the cetp at Ranipet which was receiving effluents from nearly 150 tanneries. Gudimallur, Kadappanthangal and other villages are the worst affected. The people in these areas suffer from skin and respiratory diseases. In a report filed by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board before the Madras High Court (wp No 13433 of 1996) dated September 8, 1999 it was observed, "Similarly while perusing the report of analysis of treated trade effluent collected from Common Effluent Treatment Plants, the concentration of Biological Oxygen Demand was 15 to 19 milligram/litre (mg/l) against 30 mg/l, Chemical Oxygen Demand 168 to 576 mg/l against 250 mg/l, Total Dissolved Solids was 4692 mg/l to 13008 mg/l against 2100 mg/l, chlorides 299mg/l to 6080 mg/l against 1000 mg/l, sulphates 293 to 2633 mg/l in certain Common Effluent Treatment Plants, during certain occasions, exceeding the standards prescribed by the board."

A visit to these places will show gross violations of the Supreme Court directions given in Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum Case (air 1996 sc page 2715). The sc directed, by its order dated April 9, 1996, that licenses for starting tanneries in Tamil Nadu should not be given since they had shockingly polluted the water sources and destroyed agricultural lands. In this scenario, the international Indian Leather Fair is proposed to be held at Chennai for the 17th year in succession from January 31 to February 4, 2003. Our forum vehemently opposes the grant of permission for holding this event either in Chennai or any other place in India by the central and state governments. We would like to point out that on November 28, 2002, the Supreme.

Answers please!

As a student of water resources management, I have a few questions about rainwater harvesting. There is no doubt that rainwater harvesting and artificial recharge of groundwater will increase the sustainable extraction from groundwater sources. The crucial question is: the magnitude of this increase.

Can the Centre for Science and Environment (cse) provide a quantitative estimate of the ultimate potential of rainwater harvesting? What will be the increase in groundwater availability after rainwater harvesting is implemented to its full potential?

cse constantly talks about the 'dying wisdom' of India's traditional water harvesting techniques. One hundred years ago, the land and water use situation in the country was far better than what the proponents of traditional methods can ever want it to be. For example,

Forest cover was more than our wildest dreams today

Major and medium schemes did not exist and therefore, I presume, the ills said to have been brought by them also did not exist

Forget about gm seeds, even hybrid, high-yielding seeds did not exist

Inorganic fertilisers and pesticides did not exist

Sugar factories and therefore large-scale cultivation of sugarcane did not exist

In short, land and environment existed in all their pristine glory. Above all this, the population to be supported was a fraction of what it is today. While population data for 1900 is not available, about 20 crore seems to be a reasonable estimate.

And yet a hydrological drought invariably meant a famine. Lakhs of people died in drought-related famines. Fifty lakh are estimated to have died in the famine of 1896-97. For a population of 20 crore, this means 1/40th of the population starved to death. If that was to happen today it would mean starvation deaths for 2.5 crore people!

Another 2.5 lakh are estimated to have died of famine in 1899-1900; 15 lakh in 1943-44. Even as late as the 1960s, when the population to be supported was about 1/3rd of what it is today, and even during the years of normal rainfall, the nation was not able to meet the food grain demand.

In view of the above, what is the basis of your faith in the 'traditional wisdom,' which you espouse so fervently? This 'wisdom' is now dying we are told, when was it last seen alive?

I look forward to your replies to these questions.

Director (R&D)
Water Resources Department

Beware of MCD

The editorial 'How cities (don't) run' (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 15; December 31, 2002) graphically depicts the sad affairs in the nation's capital and how the politician-bureaucratic-criminal nexus is ransacking it. As regards harassment by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi's (mcd) property tax department referred to in the editorial, I too have suffered. A few years ago, I received a notice from mcd asking me to pay about Rs 1.5 lakh as arrears of 12 years. When I confronted the officials with facts, they began to make all sorts of excuses including blaming the computer. I understand that the strategy of the department is to force the house owner to come to their office on one pretext or the other and then force him to pay.

According to the report of Transparency International (India) org-marg survey, Indians pay Rs 267 billion in bribes every year. What is most alarming about the entire scenario is that the police, education and health departments -- supposed to provide the basic infrastructure for development -- are the most corrupt.

I often wonder whether this was what Jawaharlal Nehru meant by his 'tryst with destiny' call on the night of August 14/15, 1947. Had Jawaharlal Nehru taken action against black marketers by hanging them from the nearest lamp post, as he had so firmly declared on coming to power, we would not have come to such a pass.

The four points mentioned in the editorial to change the system are quite relevant, but how can we implement them when to find an honest person is like searching for a needle in a bundle of hay? Unless the business of law breaking is made costly with provisions made for the severest punishment along with confiscation of the ill-gotten wealth, nothing is likely to change.


Frogs and their protists

I read the article 'Sri Lanka's tree frogs' (Down To Earth, Vol 11, No 14; December 15, 2002) with great interest. It was astonishing to note that a field survey recently carried out in the rainforest area of the island's southwest region yielded as many as 200 species of terrestrial and arboreal frogs previously unknown to science.

As a researcher, in the field of gut parasites of frogs (family Opalinidae) in the Orient, I wish to make a suggestion to the scientists of Sri Lanka. While undertaking a description of the systematic position of the frog hosts, if an attempt to examine samples of gut contents of a few frogs is made side by side for their Opaline protists, it is possible some frog hosts may be able to yield valuable information on protozoans such as Zelleriella (body flat with 2 nuclei); Protoopalina (cylindrical form with 2 nuclei); Cepedea (cylindrical body with many nuclei); and Opalina (body flat with many nuclei). Such information would really serve as evidence in properly understanding palaeographic conclusions.

It may be recalled here that recently a satisfactory concept has emerged regarding the evolutionary source of opalinid ciliate protozoa and their frog hosts (Kreier J P & Baker J R (1993) (2nd ed) Parasitic Protozoa, vol 3, Jovanovich Publishers, Toronto).

Since the primitive genus Zelleriella has been observed in frogs from southern land masses associated with the Gondwana basin, and also found in the Afrotropical region and others on Madagascar-Seychelles-Indian Plate, any studies on protists harboured by the frogs of Sri Lanka in the Orient would be of special research value.


pesticide in bottled water

It was shocking!!!...

very good story

The story gives full deatils about the tests, the scenario at the water extracting bottling firms. All the scientific details are also explained in simple launguage. Congratulations to the team! ...

Need to have a copy of your environmental magzine

Dear Editor, I am Consultant and Business Advisor of Australian Business Ltd.,(ABL) Sydney, Australia. ABL is a chamber more than 118 years old with 14000 members. We were known as New South Wales Chamber of Commerce & Industries and over the years now as ABL. As a business consultant and Advisor i am the only person retained by ABL as Manager for India & Sub-continent outside Australia for the last 5 years. We have been promoting lot of technologies and industries in Environmental Sector from Australia to India. I would like to have a copy of your publication to go through the same as also subscription details to keep getting the magazine you publish. Thanks Raj Kaul Manager, India & Sub-Continent, International Trade, Australian Business Ltd., 201, LINK VIEW, KHANDELWAL COMPLEX, EVERSHINE NAGAR, MALAD-WEST, MUMBAI--400 064, INDIA. TELE: 91-22-28823895 FAX: 91-22-28883423...

pesticides in bottled water

Dear sir, I am a water treatment equipment manufacturer and most of my customers are bottled water manufacturers. Let me tell you after starting this business 5 years back and seeing the bottled water manufacturers methods of treating water or filling the bottles I stopped buying water and started carrying from home filtered through simple ss candle filter. Now you can imagine the extent of the problem. The so called Bisleri water is nothing but ordinary filling from a micron filter at most of their contract fillers. Also BIS officials are teaching these so called bottle water manufacturers how to cheat in the samples they provide....

Contaminated water being sold in bottles

The chief culprits are BIS officials I repeat BIS officials who go for inspection . They take Rs. 5000/- to Rs 25,000/- and inturn advise the bottle water or so called packaged drinking water manufacturers how to pass the sample tests. If any one is to be punished or jailed for the offence it should be these BIS officials with any knowledge of water treatment or water chemistry....

Pesticide residues

Sir/ Madam, We are a group of students studying in National Institute of Nutrition. We are involved in a short term project on Pesticide residues. The prevalent opinion in NIN is that the issue of Pesticide residue is a media hype. I would be very greatful if you can provide us the other side of the story so that we are able to balance the two veiws in our final report presentation. Do you think that the health scare from pesticide is an exaggeration? If not can you cite any work which proves your point of veiw. Thanking you Dr Robin Abraham...

bottled water

dear sir does a small domestic ro system take care of all these chemicals/pestisides?? i am quite at sea with a lot of tall claims being made by most manufacturers...but no documented proof frm any water testing body...also is there any water testing establishment one can use[no govt. run please!!]????????? thnx ss singh...

pesticides in bottled water

the articl was an eyeopener,its sad to note that the privete companies are interested only in profits at any cost,i hope atleast after this the authorities would do some justice to the jobs by taking stringent action aganist those who do not abide by the specific limits set by the government,as the health of millions are at stake!...


"Now India is wholeheartedly disinvesting...er, further liberalising." This is from the article. Is it directly connected to the article? Does it not reflect authors' "leftist" mind set? Can YOU not just publish Test Report without sensational statements, emotional jingoism and definitely without the ideologies of your organisation? I appreciate the hard work of analysis and informing the public/consumers of the FACTS. Your opinion, diagnosis, blames etc. are only good for you. Thanks....

article reg. bottled water

Excellent work and study and scary results....saw your website as well as the discussion on Star News....would like to know if we as consuemrs can do anything like filing a PIL against the companies that are behaving so irresponsibly....or anything else....this study should not go in vain....we as consumers must do smething to better the quality of products that they ensure us... Priya...

Bottled Water

It was shocking indeed that companies like coc-cola and kinley were fooling people around.The report is an excellent work done by CSE.Keep it up....

Drinking water reports

Matter was excellent but same time I was shocked to that whats happening to Indian manufacturers. Regds...

Drug Prices

Dear M'm /Sir, I am a researcher on Intellectual Property Law at the Max Planck Institute in Munich, Germany working for a research paper on Indian Patent Laws. I have recently noted that in one of your articles posted on the net (dated 31.07.2001), there was a mention of an US Standing Committee Report of 1960s stating that the drug prices in India was very high. Unfortunately I could not go to the web-site. Could you please refer to the article and send a copy of it via e-mail as an attachment. It would be very helpful for my research because then I would be able to quote the resource. Warm regards, Santanu Mukherjee Max Planck Institute for Intellectual Property, Competition & Tax Laws Marstallplatz 1, Munich D-80539 Germany Ph. +49 89 24246 226...

contamination of edibles

This report has been an eye opener. Personally, I have never been using these bottled waters. I always considered tap water were relatively safer. In this country, right in the capital of the country, common man has always been taken for granted; whether by three- wheelers, by red-line or blue- line buses or by white- line buses or by mineral water industry. People might have forgotten the Shudh Vanaspati ghee episode. Few(about 15) years back, laboratories like CDRI and ITRC, both Lucknow based CSIR labs. were debating, rather contradicting each other whether Ni content in a particular brand of chocolate was within the permissible limits. The milk adulteration by ingredients such as urea etc. is faily well known in this part of the country. Less said about the environmental pollution, the better it is. Only the nature of pollutants (presence of olefins and diolefins have increased) have changed. Pollution may not be visible, but is being faced bravely by patients who have to undergo as guinea pigs before the doctors- pharmaceutical lobby. Your efforts may create some awareness in the minds of the public, but will they create any dent? Possibly, you will have to strengthen yourselves by joining hands with people like Medha Patkar, MC Mehta or voluntary organizations such as Parivartan or Common Cause. Anyway, look forward to similar studies on milk, chocolate, ice creams etc....

pesticides in bottled water

Great story! Keep upi the good work. Please think of having Hyderabad's water tested too/...

Bottled Water

Great work! Hope you can use this to build up a pressure campaign against the use of pesticides at large....

excellent research

the results of your test were utterly shocking. I commend you for an excellent bit of work. We need this to keep such folks in check....

Not only Water!

High time that some one is taking up issues of vital concern, which the System of a nation of 1000 million human beings so calluously ignores. It was (is) air pollution, it is potable water and 800 persons dying from cold. The bills have just started pouring in. Watch out when there is the next Bhopal or Pokharan! Back to water. Bottled water you have tested and uncovered. I suggest that you begin collecting test samples of "potable" tap water flowing into our houses. How can there be no residual pesticide in there, too. Might the Indian population have become dependent on (immune to)pesticides? Good for pesticide and fertilizer manufacturers!...

Bottled pesticides.

7.2.2003 Dear Editor, Kudos to CSE's Pollution Monitoring Laboratory for this path breaking research and subsequent exposure of the truth behind oh-so-safe drinking water brands which have proliferated in the market. The three main quality enforcement authorities namely the Municipal Corporation, the FDA and the Bureau if Indian Standards (BIS) should be held accountable for this laxity and callousness. The concerned officers responsible for this grave lapse should be severely prosecuted for criminal negligence to send a message down the line that negligence and laxity will not be tolerated. Thank you. Yours truly, Sd/- Mr G R Vora, Plot - 275/3, Gope Nivas, Dr B A Road, Sion E, Mumbai - 22. Ph - (022) 2409 1193 ...

Bottled water

It is highly desastrous and disturbing to know that contaminated water is sold as safe for drinking. People travelling long distance have no option but to depend on such bottled water since stations dont provide safe water. Recently in Hubli in Karnatak a racket was unearthed where in used bottles are collected and filled with tap water and sold as safe bottled water of differant brands at a very nominal price to the vendor but consumer pays the same high price. Vendors were making fast buck. People having come to know are at aloss to know weather to buy water at all. Now people destroy the used bottles by crushing them. It is the public which has to be aware and Govts have to be responsive. But is Govt. responsive? The kind of governance you see these days, there is little hope....

Packaged Drinking Water

Dear Sir I read with interest the article in DOWN TO EARTH on packaged drinking water. While it is frightening to find what pesticides we are drinking through these bottled drinks, I shiver to think about what I may be drinking through the muncipality supplied water. I live in Bangalore and I would like to know what BWSSB does to ensure the quality of water supplied here. Secondly, how effective are these so called water purifiers very commonly used at home: aquaguard, zero-b, etc? Why does our BIS always lag behind the control agencies in the west? Is it a case of the greatest Indian problem: shout after being bitten by the dog? Sincerely Arun ...

Pesticides in Packaged Water

The story was extremely interesting but stopped at the most relevant part - what water should we, the public be drinking and what water should be avoided at all costs. What is the maximum amount of the bottled water that should be drunk daily or weekly to minimise the risk of disease. It would also be useful to know when symptoms are likely to manifest themselves. Will you be fine for the next 20 years before you notice any symptoms or will these become apparent next week? In our case, for example, we are likely to be in Mumbai for 6.5 months. Are we going to be at risk, what about the risks to people just here for a quick holiday or, most importantly, what about those who live here. This article is very imformative about the problem but gives no clues as to the long or short term dangers and possible solutions. The main reason that I had looked for the article was to find these and work out whether it is necessary to stop drinking a particular brand of bottled water, I am now in a dilemma because I have learned that all of the brands appear to contain these pesticides in varying amounts. The article has actually succeeded in increasing my fears, not just for myself but for the population generally. Having highlighted this problem, then surely the newspaper/s should be encouraging people to protest at the lack of control the government are using. You have opened the floodgates now lead the crusade to stop the poisoning of a nation because of ineptitude and lethargy by the authorities. If the government are not going to do anything about the health and safety of the water companies then it is up to the public to force the companies to change by signing petitions and if necessary boycotting products until action is taken. Be the hero, make your newspaper, alone or in conjunction with others, force the water companies to take action because the public will otherwise not buy their products and without these sales the companies will go bankrupt. ...

Bottled Water comments

The facts unearthed by the team of CSE experts tell every thing about the dangerous activities taken by the well advertised "Pure water" bottlers against the unsuspecting and somewhat callous users, to which I also belonged till your report came to my notice. Most stringent action should be taken against the offender who are no doubt very big houses enjoying the favour of the men in poower. It is certain that the soft drinks manufactured by them also use the "pure water" produced by these manufacturers. Another thorough test might reveal the fact. Thank you all you have done for the common users...



bottled water controversey

excellent article. The review should be done on a 6 months basis and the BIS should improve their standards of testing. mohit krishna ...

bottled water

dear sir, sure was an eye opener....but what process do these companies use if not r.o.!!?? regards ss singh...

pesticide residues in bottled water

The interest was pertinent and totally relevant to the everyday life of the public. I found it fasinating and very informative, but very heavy on the science, which some may find difficult....

Water, water everywhere , not a drop worth drinking.

It is a revealation for us the literate urbans. probably the water coming out of the tap on the railway stations, which we scorn at as dirty, is much better than the bottled variety available at the same station....

Bottled water

Very good article. Please ensure Bottled drinking water is drinking water and free of pesticides. Checks should be enforced in the consumption market to ensure that "Tap Water" is not sold as Bottled Water...

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.